Culture: Copying, Compression, and Conventionality

Authors

  • Mónica Tamariz,

    Corresponding author
    1. Language Evolution and Computation, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, The University of Edinburgh
    • Correspondence should be sent to Mónica Tamariz, Language Evolution and Computation, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, 3 Charles Street, EH8 Edinburgh, UK. E-mail: monica@ling.ed.ac.uk

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  • Simon Kirby

    1. Language Evolution and Computation, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, The University of Edinburgh
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Abstract

Through cultural transmission, repeated learning by new individuals transforms cultural information, which tends to become increasingly compressible (Kirby, Cornish, & Smith, 2008; Smith, Tamariz, & Kirby, 2013). Existing diffusion chain studies include in their design two processes that could be responsible for this tendency: learning (storing patterns in memory) and reproducing (producing the patterns again). This paper manipulates the presence of learning in a simple iterated drawing design experiment. We find that learning seems to be the causal factor behind the increase in compressibility observed in the transmitted information, while reproducing is a source of random heritable innovations. Only a theory invoking these two aspects of cultural learning will be able to explain human culture's fundamental balance between stability and innovation.

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